International Women's Day - Jessica Taylor

Thu, 08 Mar 2018

Moving into the final day of an immersive, experimental and deeply wholehearted programme- Beneath the Iceberg, a Whole Systems Approach to Equality, Diversity and Organisational Development Practice with colleagues from the network of leadership academies, I am aware of the significance of the work we are doing in relation to International Women’s Day. As an intersectional feminist committed to the practice of inclusion, I reflect on the his (her)story, here and now and future of the women’s movement.

The response to tackling gender inequality in the UK manifested at all levels - individual, group, and institutional - and emerged from feminist movements of the 1970s and 80s. This response exposed the need for rape crisis centres and refuges to organise themselves within feminist frameworks. These services were seen as a space to further develop feminist approaches to tackling violence against women and girls, and served the purpose of meeting women’s immediate needs and furthering educational and academic work. Providing services in this way sent a strong political message about the need for feminist organisations to providers of statutory services in the UK, such as Housing, the National Health Service and the Criminal Justice System. Numerous feminists such as Ida B. Wells, Bell Hooks,  Audrey Lourdes, The Combahee River Collective and Kimberly Crenshaw crucially highlighted how black women’s lives were shaped by the mutually and overlapping influences of race, gender, class, age, and ability to exacerbate their experiences of inequality, inequity and oppression.

Despite legislative and societal changes, gender inequality continues: intersecting with other inequalities, it inflicts harm at every level, causing damage to families, children’s education, businesses and employers; this increases demand for resources and support from public services, such as housing, civil and criminal justice, and health and social care. In England and Wales alone there are over one million female domestic violence victims; over three hundred thousand women are sexually assaulted, and another sixty thousand raped (Home Office, 2014). The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) revealed in 2010 over two thousand eight hundred incidents of reported ‘honour’ based violence across the UK; As highlighted by Imkaan, a Black Feminist Organisation,  this particularly impacts on specialist black and minority ethnic (BME) organisations, sixty seven percent of whom said they felt uncertain about their future in the current climate.

This need is juxtaposed against the challenges increasingly encountered by women’s organisations in the face of reduced funding, constricted contracts and commissioning processes, so at odds with the reality of the plurality of women’s lived experiences. The concept of women’s ‘space for action’ (best understood in the context of domestic violence as a narrowing of life and options where this space is diminished) can be seen at a wider systems level where the ‘space for action’ of specialist, particularly BME, organisations are also diminishing. Delivering services within this context is demanding, painful and tiring but essential for those who need them.

As I reflect on the history, here and now and future of feminisms and intersectional practice, I am conscious of using my privilege as a white woman to be an ally, disrupting organisational cultures which replicate wider societal privilege, power and control dynamics. Talking about and acting to reduce gender inequality is crucial, however If we are only in a conversation about gender inequality then we are not looking at where we hold power: if we are not engaging with that then we start replicating oppressive behaviours which reduce diversity and inclusion. As we move into 2018 and the wave of visibility around sexual harassment the gender pay gap gathers force we must be able to critique what it means to be inclusive and what we mean by feminism, otherwise we are stuck in a one size fits all. This means a real commitment to looking inwards and having conversations and sharing and being willing to challenge and being open to change.’ It’s a necessarily messy business which takes courage to dares to address uncomfortable truths’, aspiring to think not the same, but in a ‘spirit of mutuality and collaboration’  towards a conscientious and conscious feminisms approach which celebrates and empowers all women in the true spirit of International Women’s Day.

‘Lean in close…take up space’

Vanessa Kisuule- Women Who Spit

Jessica Taylor is the Director of the Equality Academy, and is an expert in Organisational Development. She has a keen interest in the psychology, leadership and practice of systemic change within an intersectional context and has helped a wide variety of organisations implement transformational change programmes, developing inclusive governance and change frameworks in support of these processes. She has a passion for partnership, diversity and social justice.